LONDON: Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham has made the transition to La Liga look ridiculously easy and his masterful display against Scotland this week underlined why many feel he can be the catalyst for England to win Euro 2024.
Bellingham, whom pundits have showered with the highest accolades in the past few seasons, has emerged as a genuinely world-class performer with the world seemingly at his feet.
But there is a caveat, and one that Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti and England head coach Gareth Southgate will be all too aware of. Bellingham is only 20 and already has very high-mileage at the top end of the game.
The relentless demands of modern-day football, both physically and mentally, are unlikely to diminish anytime soon and Bellingham will require careful management if he is to maintain his extraordinary trajectory.
Having made his senior debut for Birmingham City as a 16-year-old, he went on to become a mainstay of the Borussia Dortmund team, playing 132 times in three seasons.
He became England’s third-youngest senior international when Southgate gave him his first cap in 2020, aged 17, and now has 26 caps with many predicting he will be a key component of his country’s midfield for the next decade.
Five goals in his first four appearances for Los Blancos have already established him as one of the first names on Ancelotti’s team sheet with the wily Italian describing him as the ‘complete midfielder’ despite his tender years.
Barring injuries Bellingham will face a huge workload this season and the danger of ‘athlete burnout’ will be a concern.
“Burnout develops as a function of chronic stress. This can be both physical and psychological,“ Daniel Madigan, a professor in Sport and Health psychology at York St John University, told Reuters on Thursday.
“Jude has been playing at the highest levels since a young age and has likely experienced many stressful demands and intense pressures such as World Cups, transfers and playing for club and country. His current competition schedule is only likely to contribute to these demands further.”
World players union FIFPRO warned of the dangers faced by young players such as Bellingham in June.
A report found that Bellingham had accumulated almost 15,000 minutes in competitive senior matches before turning 20 -- considerably more than his predecessors such as Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard at the same stage of their illustrious careers.
Only Rooney came anywhere close to Bellingham’s total with 10,989 minutes while Lampard’s total was 3,477 and David Beckham had not even managed 1,000 senior minutes before turning 20.
“One downside of over-exposure at an early-age is the risk of mental burnout, as the pressure to constantly perform at a high-level impact on a young player’s mental health,“ the report said. “Another potential issue concerns career longevity, with injuries and the related wear and tear on a player’s body often impacting these players at an earlier stage.
“It is important for clubs and national teams to take a balanced approach when it comes to managing workloads.”
Southgate will hope that Bellingham is given sufficient time to re-charge between now and the start of Euro 2024.
But the England coach is not unduly worried about his midfield gem, saying that his incredible maturity and the support networks around him should ensure his longevity.
“I’m not sure I’ve come across a player whose burnt out,“ Southgate said this week on the subject of Bellingham’s workload for club and country. “There might be different reasons for players not fulfilling their potential.
“I think his whole life and how his family have looked after him have given him a great start but there’s still a lot to go.” - Reuters